Mississippi River Basin Initiative

What is the MRBI?

To improve the health of the Mississippi River Basin, The USDA-Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) has established the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative. Through this initiative NRCS and its partners will assist producers in selected watersheds in the Mississippi River Basin to voluntarily implement conservation practices that avoid, control, and trap nutrient runoff; improve wildlife habitat; and maintain agricultural productivity. MRBI is a 12 state effort including: Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Iowa, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.

The primary focus of MRBI is to address nutrient contributions, specifically nitrogen and phosphorus, which originate from farms and enter the Mississippi River Basin and cause both local water quality problems and Hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico. Partnering with local watershed groups, farm organizations, and other non-governmental organizations NRCS will help producers in selected watersheds in the Mississippi River Basin voluntarily implement conservation practices that avoid, control, and trap nutrient runoff; improve wildlife habitat; and maintain agricultural productivity.

These improvements will be accomplished through a conservation systems approach to manage and optimize nitrogen and phosphorous within fields to minimize runoff and reduce downstream nutrient loading. NRCS will provide producers assistance with a system of practices that will control soil erosion, improve soil quality, and provide wildlife habitat while managing runoff and drainage water for improved water quality.

In Illinois, Where is it Available?

In Illinois, three 8-digit hydrologic unit code (HUC) watersheds are the focus areas for the MRBI. Those targeted watersheds are the: Lower Illinois Senachwine, the Vermillion (Upper Ohio), and the Vermillion River. Many factors have contributed to the selection of these watersheds, but primarily, these watersheds have both high mean total concentrations of nitrate and phosphorus as identified by Illinois EPA.

Click here to see a map Illinois indicating where the MRBI targeted watersheds are located. (Note: the Upper Illinois watershed was withdrawn for consideration in 2011.)

How does it Work?

The program is implemented by NRCS through the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative (CCPI), Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program (WREP), and Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG). The CCPI funding will be sourced from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), and the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP).

NRCS will offer this initiative in federal fiscal years 2010 through 2013, dedicating up to $80 million in financial assistance each fiscal year. Additionally, other Federal agencies, States, partners, and producers will contribute to the effort. The MRBI Request for Proposals (RFP) process in fiscal year 2012 is seeking proposals to utilize the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative (CCPI) and the Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program (WREP) to leverage investment from non-Federal sources and ensure coordination of NRCS efforts with other Federal, State, Tribal, and local efforts. The RFP allows eligible partners to submit proposals addressing the conservation objectives to be achieved in one or more 12-digit HUC sub-watersheds within designated 8-digit focus areas. Through agreements, partners and NRCS will provide assistance to eligible participants in the approved proposal watersheds. Deadline for submitting proposals is March 19, 2012.

MRBI emphasizes a “systems approach” to address water quality resource concerns. A cornerstone of this approach is to use screening and ranking criteria to focus program support on participants who will implement a suite of complimentary conservation practices to address the nitrogen and phosphorous generated from agricultural runoff. NRCS has approved a number of core and supporting conservation practices, which are recognized methods of avoiding, trapping and controlling pollutants, for use in MRBI participant contracts.

In addition to implementation of these conservation practices, MRBI has adopted a three-tiered monitoring and evaluation approach designed to assess environmental outcomes at the edge-of-field, in-stream, and at the 12-digit HUC level.

A special Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) category is designated for MRBI. CIG affords a competitive opportunity for matching funds to implement innovative projects related to nutrient management, drainage water management, bio-filters, market-based approaches to conservation on a watershed scale, and other high-priority interest areas where field trails and demonstrations are needed.

Role of Partners

MRBI relies on successful partnerships with private organizations to achieve the outreach and education goals of the programs. Farm organizations, watershed groups, and other non-governmental organizations partner together to submit proposed agreements with the NRCS to inform agricultural producers and landowners of the future availability of funds for approved MRBI partnerships projects. This includes providing education and outreach activities; providing technical and educational assistance; targeting their agency’s or organization’s programs toward the Initiative’s watersheds; and assisting with monitoring, evaluation, and assessment.

Illinois Stewardship Alliance is interested in working with your watershed group to set up an informational workshop about the MRBI. If your watershed group is located in one of the targeted watersheds and is interested in learning more about the MRBI initiative and what goes into forming a partnership and submitting a proposal to NRCS, please contact Illinois Stewardship Alliance’s Conservation Policy Advocate Claudia Emken, cemken@winco.net.

Accepted Proposals

The following is a list of proposals that have been accepted by the NRCS. If you are an agricultural producer in one of the watersheds in these accepted proposals you may be eligible to receive funding from NRCS to implement conservation practices on your property.

Starting Clean to Finish Healthy: Engaging Farmers in Reducing Nutrient Loads

Lead Partner: American Farmland Trust
Watersheds: Spoon River (051201090303)
Counties – Champaign, Vermillion
Improving Nutrient Efficiency in Indian Creek Watershed

Lead Partner: Livingston County Soil and Water Conservation District
Watersheds: Indian Creek (071300202030), Belle Prairie-Indian Creek (0713000202040), Town of Fairbury (071300020205)
Counties: Livingston, McLean, Ford
Reducing Pollutant Loading from Senachwine Creek Watershed in HUC – 07130001

Lead Partner: Tri-County Regional Planning Commission
Watersheds: Saratoga Church (071300011401), Little Senachwine Creek (071200011402), Gilfillan Creek (071300011403)
Counties: Marshall, Peoria
Illinois River Water Quality Initiative – Upper Peoria Lake WREP

Lead Partner: Ducks Unlimited
Watersheds: Blalock Creek (071300011702)
Counties: Woodford, Peoria
Big Bureau Creek Targeted Sub-watershed Initiative

Lead Partner: American Corn Growers Association
Watersheds: Upper Bureau (071300010502), Pike Creek (071300010501), and East Bureau (071300010602)
Counties: Bureau, Lee, LaSalle

For more information contact Jennifer Flipiak, Illinois Stewardship Alliance Conservation Associate , jennifer@ilstewards.org, or visit the Illinois’ MRBI Website hosted by NRCS.